A few years later I was sharing an apartment with a tiny blonde student named Charlene. She grew up in a town with a name like 'Fred, Oklahoma,' where her father was the pastor of an extreme right fundamentalist church. She spent her childhood dressed like a character from "Little House on the Prairie," living in a house that had no radio, no television and no secular literature. The main form of recreation was nightly prayers and Bible study. Charlene celebrated her liberation from this environment by entering a passionate love affair with a 6' 2" graduate student from Ethiopia.
One day Charlene was off with her lover and I was home recovering from a bout of the flu. I was wearing an old flannel nightgown with orange juice dribbles down the front and a long tear under one sleeve. There was a knock on the door. I walked out of my room and discovered that my dog Moses had gotten into the trash, carried it into the living room and sorted it at his leisure, doing such a thorough job that the entire living floor was covered with an even layer of eggshells, coffee grounds, banana peels, unmentionable items recovered from a wastebasket in the bathroom....
I still answered the door, assuming it was just one of the other
student degenerates who lived down the hall. I opened the door and there stood Charlene's parents. Something clicked inside my head and I passed into a whole new, expanded state of consciousness. I became the Zen Observer standing on the bridge watching the scene unfold.
"Come in," I said. "Charlene isn't here but you are welcome to wait for her. Would you like a cup of coffee?" I spoke while leading them across the carpet of garbage, to the couch, as grandly as Queen Victoria leading guests into her private sitting room at Buckingham Palace. They collapsed onto the sofa, their eyeballs fixed at the ceiling. Sweat was breaking out on her father's forehead and her mother was breathing in little asthmatic puffs. After about two minutes they jumped up babbling about remembering another place they had to be - out of town - far out of town - and scrambled for the door, with me waving graciously and saying, "Charlene will be so sorry she missed you. Have a good trip!"